KOTA KINABALU, Sept 24 — Sabah is looking to tap into the Indian tourism market, particularly the wedding and film-making industry, said Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Joniston Bangkuai.
Bangkuai, who is also Sabah Tourism Board (STB) chairman said they were working on introducing Sabah to the Indian market as a new and hidden gem of Malaysia.
"We have observed that Indian tourists love our beaches, islands, resorts, diving, wildlife, and cultures. Sabah was also quite a hit as a wedding venue for Indian couples pre-Covid.
"We want this situation to return and to re-capture our potential Indian guests. In addition, we hope to welcome Indian filmmakers too as our destination is already well sought after for documentaries,” he added.
He said there had been an upward trend of Indian arrivals to Sabah before the Covid-19 pandemic, with 5,606 Indian visitors registered in 2018, and 6,548 recorded the following year.
To facilitate the effort, Bangkuai said they were working on having a direct flight from India to Sabah eventually.
"We at the Sabah Tourism Board want to work closely with tour agents and airlines to expand indirect passenger traffic to Sabah, and who knows, with enough Indian arrivals, we might be able to schedule direct flights from India one day,” he said.
Currently, Indian tourists can travel to Sabah via Singapore with 14 flights weekly to Kota Kinabalu, and via Kuala Lumpur, with 230 weekly connecting flights to Kota Kinabalu.
Bangkuai said that the tourism board was currently hosting 32 travel agents from India to explore the state’s potential as a new tourist destination.
The group is among 543 members of the Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) who recently attended the TAFI conference in Kuching, Sarawak.
Arriving on Friday, the group led by Western India Chapter of TAFI chairman Jitul Mehta has chosen to make their post-conference excursion to Sabah to become more familiar with the region and its product offerings.
Mehta said he was hopeful that the group's four-day tour to Sabah would be informative and enlightening for its members who had previously only heard or read about the state.
"We are optimistic that we could bring more Indian tourists to Sabah and perhaps, by working together, we might make direct flights a reality,” he said.